The stiff straw boater (aka skimmer) became a popular summer hat for men in the 1890s and remained popular until the 1920s. Typically worn for semi-formal occasions, they were usually donned with lightweight summer suits, or blazers with white flannels and often worn at boating events, which is the origin for its name. Finer, softer, Panama straws became more popular with younger men by the 1930s, although boaters were worn into the 1950s by older men.
There rose a peculiar observance in the U.S. in the early 1900s called ‘Straw Hat Day’. This was to be the first day when men wore their straw boaters, abandoning their wintery felt hats for the summer season. The exact date for this observance varied from place to place and year to year, but usually occurred around mid-late May. The Fall counterpart ‘Felt Hat Day’ when the boater was put away, occurred around mid-September to early October. Like the wearing of hats in general, this observance gradually disappeared – the last time it was mentioned in the New York Times was 1963, well after straw boaters had fallen from fashion.
When the convention was being especially observed in the early 1920s, a tradition of destroying your summer hat at the end of the season began as a lark but got out of hand when it escalated into the Straw Hat Riot of 1922. What began as a small group of teenage boys snatching and destroying hats on September 13, two days before Felt Hat Day, grew into a mob of ‘hooligans’ destroying straw hats and beating men who resisted their hats being taken. After eight days and several arrests, the hat smashing orgy was stopped. Magistrate Peter Hatting (no kidding, that’s his name…) was quoted in the September 14 New York Times: ‘It is against the law to smash a man’s hat, and he has a right to wear it in a January snowstorm if he wishes.”
Although this 1922 event was the worst event of this nature, every year saw occurrences of unwanted hat snatching and destruction until the boater fell from popularity by the end of the 1920s.